Top Value Brands—Part 3 of 3

The M/A/R/C and Integer study on the top value brands included the likes of Walmart, Target, Sony and Kellogs. However, most companies can’t match the spending power of those listed in the M/A/R/C  and Integer study. In fact, each of those companies likely has an annual advertising budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars if not more. While the second in this series focused on using positioning as a strategy to build value, this article focuses on how companies without billion-dollar budgets can communicate that value to their audiences.

The communication of value is where the real trick lies. After all, Target didn’t get to be known for designer quality on a budget by getting lucky or stumbling upon something that worked. Effective communication of value is a product of three things: positioning, effective communication strategies and audience touch points. While the concept of positioning was covered in the second of this series, this article explores the latter two.

Effective Communication of Value

The first part of knowing how to communicate your value is knowing who it is that you’re marketing to. If your segment is uneducated consumers, gimmicky tactics can be successful in the long term. However, if your segment is the sophisticates, gimmicks won’t get you far. Rather, you need to implicitly communicate that value by showing your meaningful difference instead of just talking about it.

For example, Utah there was a computer chain called Totally Awesome Computers. The name alone is enough to drive a good segment of computer users, myself included, running the other way. Their marketing tactics consisted of putting their founder on TV and radio ads acting like an idiot as he made outlandish claims that theirs were the best computers on the planet. His strategy used overt claims of his value proposition. As much as it pains me to say this, the strategy worked brilliantly with his target audience of customers who knew little about computers or how to use them, but wanted what they thought would be a good, reliable machine.  (The demise of Totally Awesome Computers is another story.)

On the other hand, if your audience is more sophisticated in the consumption of your product or service, you cannot be so overt. For example Target didn’t establish its value by explicitly claiming to have designer goods. Rather Target showed you how cool their stuff was by developing television ads that were so cool they were a treat to watch. Their method of communicating “designer goods” was turning their ads into “designer goods.”

In Park City, Utah there is a retailer of skiing and cycling equipment who had signs all over the town proclaiming to be the “outdoor expert.” The real question is whether or not that claim to have expertise is truly credible. Being skeptics, we look at the sign and speculate why they would need to make such claims if it were really so. Everything else they did would speak to the fact that they were experts and they wouldn’t need to say it.

As such, using tools such as graphic design, marketing copy and tactical methods can help you effectively communicate your value without really communicating value.

Touch Points

The next step to appropriately communicating your value is to effectively use the touch points your audience has with your company (e.g. Web site, brochures, sales calls, etc.), both in terms of integrity and frequency. The integrity of those touch points should reinforce the value you’re attempting to communicate. By integrity, I mean that all touch points should be consistent in both its design or/and messaging concepts. Too often companies produce marketing collateral that is disparate in its appearance and content. While studies have shown that by integrating touch points across media can increase brand recall faster than the same number of impressions in the same medium, they have also shown that touch point differentiation can actually hinder brand recall (see Briggs & Stuart, What Sticks, 2006).

Furthermore, frequency plays a big role in communicating value over time. Target didn’t become the “design on a budget” retail store by running one ad. They have consistently communicated the same message over and over in different ads throughout the years. To be successful in establishing value within the mind of your audience, you must reinforce the same message through multiple touch points over time. A former boss of mine used to say that by the time you’re getting sick of your message is about the time your customers are starting to get it.

In conclusion, to establish value within your audience’s mind, you need to first determine the most effective method of communicating with that audience, both in terms of your communication strategy (overt v. tacit) as well as the frequency and consistency of that audience’s touch points with your company.